Presentation on changes to the Status of Women Canada to the 39th Parliament,1st Session, Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO).
Good afternoon Madam Chair. I would like to thank you and your colleagues for giving me the opportunity to address your committee.
It is with a great deal of emotion that I appear here today, on December6, before this important committee. For the rest of my life I will remember the cold silence that fell over Montreal, a heavy chill on the steep road leading to the 14 white caskets of the young women who were gunned down at the École Polytechnique, on December6, 1989. It was a silence under an open sky, the silence of thousands of women and men who were grief stricken by this deadly attack committed by a man who was consumed by hatred for those that he identified, whether rightly or wrongly, as feminists. Strangely enough, in the decade that followed the École Polytechnique massacre, sexist, misogynist and patriarchal voices that had been silent for almost a quarter of a century began to make themselves heard.
Since then, some areas of the right have done so much to discredit feminism that the current minister for the Status of Women, Ms. Bev Oda, stated, during a meeting with the representatives of women groups last October that those who spoke out against inequality of women were exaggerating, that they were victimizing women and that, when all was said and done, they were all somewhat hysterical. The minister is very much mistaken in her characterization of the status of women living in Canada and she would be well advised to consult the work that has been done by the Policy Research Fund, a program that she has just abolished.
In fact, the decisions announced by the conservative government are detrimental to women and equality will take a step backward; take, for example, the decision to an end to funding for a national childcare network and the decision to not adopt a pay equity legislation.
Moreover, the change in the mandate and funding criteria for the Women’s Program is an unprecedented effort by the federal government to silence the feminists, particularly the groups who represent women’s rights at the municipal, provincial and federal government levels. The Women’s Program will now fund services provided directly to groups of women who are particularly vulnerable, something that is no doubt necessary, but that is not enough.
The Women’s Program will no longer support groups like the National Association of Women and the Law, the NAWL, which analyze government policies, consult with women from various communities and regions, bring forward measures to ensure the full respect of women’s equality rights and promote rights and policies in Ottawa, as well as in various jurisdictions throughout Canada and Quebec. In other words, there will no longer be funding for the work that is necessary to effect systemic change, to ensure that equity, equality and social justice are the true forces guiding the development of all of the government’s policies and practices. Some groups will be hard hit by this decision. Others, like the National Association of Women and the Law, might simply have to close up shop.
The loss of the NAWL would mean the loss of a unique voice that has been making itself heard for 30years on the federal scene, one of the rare voices to defend the rights of women in crucial areas such as family law, violence against women, poverty, pay equity, the protection of human rights, immigration law reform and the constitutional and international rights of women.
This will represent a loss for grass roots organizations as well as provincial and national organizations in Quebec and Canada which use our analyses as reference material, participate in our consultations and which, then, can take part in the democratic process that has led us, over the years, to progressively reform our society and make it a place that is more respectful of women’s equality. It will also be a loss for the public service, parliamentary committees, members from all parties and ministers who, over the years, have benefited from our expertise, our interventions and our recommendations.
Women remain grossly under represented in political and legal circles, so it is essential that independent feminist organizations be involved in developing the standards for our democratic society.
The NAWL urges the Standing Committee on the Status of Women to defend the reinstatement of the original mandate of the Women’s Program, which was based on promoting the equality of women and asks the committee to recommend not only the reinstatement of the funding but an increase in the funding of Status of Women Canada.
Finally, we also urge the committee to consider the recommendations of the expert panel on gender equality which tabled its report this summer, and seek to determine the best legislative framework to guarantee stable and sustainable action by the federal government to respect and promote equality rights of all women in Quebec, Canada, and among the first nations. We must not allow the voices of women, of women’s groups and of feminists to be silenced.